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Social media, whether you like it or not, is about conversations. For brands, that can be a headache. Especially when people are angry with your brand and talking about it. But marketers should take solace: there are much worse things they could be doing.

At SxSW this weekend, the panelists at Does My Sh*t-Talking Really Help Your Brand? panel were agreed: it does.

Last year at SxSW, a panel discussing the worst social media failures of the year quickly devolved into a debate over what constitutes a social media failure. Many brand campaigns that draw the ire of users end up bringing about positive change at a company. Others, like the "Burger Sacrifice" campaign from Burger King that Facebook pulled from its site, turn mixed reactions into increased brand awareness and consumer identification.

And negative comments and articles don't always have a negative effect on sales.  

Michael Monello, partner and ECD at Campfire, pointed out that one often cited social media failure, a Proctor and Gamble's digital campaign that is often referred to as "Motrin Mommies," actually had no effect on sales. No one seemed to notice the brand's missteps — "outside of the people who were within the social media echo chamber."  

A bigger issue for most brands is that the social media team is completely separated from the decision makers at a company.

In the case of Motrin, the company pulled the offending ad and set to work addressing the problems taht led to it. But Monello says that for many social media marketers: "The biggest frustration is often how to effect change without having access to the rest of the company."

Hiring a "social media guru" and giving him access to Twitter is not going to lead to a successful social strategy. Mostly because social media is not just another marketing channel. It's a way to communicate with consumers. And that feedback needs to be actionable to succeed.

Ivan Askwith, director of strategy at Big Spaceship, says "If shit talking can help your brand, it can only do it if it can be communicated outside of the marketing department."

Sam Ford, director of digital strategy at Peppercom, says that social media "can be helpful if the infrastructure is in place to do something about it." But many brands are setting up a social media feed and walking away from the problems that consumers want resolved. 

"If you don't have the ability to fix something," says Ford. "Don't promise you will."

Brands need to work on institutional changes, and responding to feedback if they really want to capitalize on social. If they're not doing that, they could end up with a much bigger problem: silence. 

"Failure in social media doesn't often look like pissing people off. It looks like irrelevance," says Askwith: "Take any global brand with under 500 fans or followers. It's not doing something right."

Image: Burger King

Meghan Keane

Published 14 March, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

Comments (3)


Sam Ford

Really appreciate your thoughts on our panel, Meghan. I think many companies' infrastructural inability to truly listen to online feedback is a real impediment, but so are companies who put no context around negative customer feedback and then fixate on a few niche issues as if they are major detriment. Similar to Mike's point about Motrin, the key is to understand an audience's reaction and to deal with it appropriately but also to be able to contextualize that audience vis-a-vis other ones as well. Too often, C-suite members stumble across something in the blogosphere that they will suddenly think is a high priority, because they rarely if ever see that kind of feedback. But, as Emily Yellin points out, many of these issues are ones that customer service professionals have been hearing for a long time.

over 6 years ago


Brian D. Shelton

You hit it on the head, Meghan. It is extremely difficult to have a successful social media presence if the overall corporate structure is not set up to respond to feedback. While many C-level members want to jump on the social media bandwagon, that's where it ends. They "know" they "need to be there," but they don't understand what it means, nor what it takes to leverage a social media presence for the benefit of the company and its customers. Larger corporations will begin to struggle to build and maitain customer relationaships (and revenue) as smaller, nimbler, more energetic businesses step in to serve their customers more promptly and more passionately.

over 6 years ago



thank you

over 6 years ago

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